For people who do not deal with art professionally or on a daily basis, many contemporary installations may seem too abstract, alien and incomprehensible. It is extremely difficult to keep originality, look for new ways of expression, and at the same time, on a spontaneous, intuitive level, be understandable to most recipients. Jim Denevan is an example of an artist who, by simply following an internal, artistic imperative, creates art that is consistent, accessible and… romantic. Patrick Trefz in his Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan follows the artist’s activities and life, trying to discover the source of his inspiration and get closer to the man behind the facade of an eccentric artist.
In the 90s, on impulse, Denevan began to create monumental structures on the beach sand. Geometric figures, spirals, paintings were almost immediately subjected to the whims of the elements – the tides of incoming waves and the wind. The enormous scale of the artist’s projects, whose canvas is nature itself (not only sand, but also ice and earth), contrasts with the fragility of his art. The direction in which the artist is following nowadays seems to be almost obvious – great, open-air feasts with delicately arranged tables. Man is not only a recipient, but also a part of art, but is exposed to the elements. Food, on the other hand, as subtle and fragile as Denevan’s art, is exposed to the element of human hunger and curiosity about the world.
Although one gets the impression that Trefz’s film yields to the scale and charisma of the artist’s character, the director is not completely uncritical and panegyrical towards Denevan. Yes, one can see fascination and sympathy, but also an attempt to discover the sources of ephemeral inspiration for Denevan’s structures. At first, his art, even according to himself, was accidental, it was the result of a mysterious inner voice, a whim, a need to express himself. The sense of this art appeared secondarily – along with maturing, finding one’s place and the evolution of family relationships. Art has revealed its function as a safety valve for emotions, escape from the world and problems.
The German director manages to subtly capture the romantic dimension of the American eccentric’s art – the fascination with the temporariness and elements of nature, the presence of emotions and the creative strength of man – as well as the complexity of his character, this “sensitive giant”, a man who hides under the facade of self-control and inaccessibility reveals tremendous sensitivity and susceptibility to the changing tides of life.
Even the most mysterious art can take on individual meaning depending on the perspective of the viewer. Like Denevan’s art, slowly developing and maturing to finally reveal its true meaning, Trefz’s film only forms a coherent wholesome form from a distance, just like sand drawings. But will this image disappear as easily as the fleeting art of an American artist, or will it be remembered, leaving the taste of a delicacy? One will find out by looking at the coming tides of life.